Northern Ireland’s Protestants have always proved useful political tools for British ministers and ambitious, desperate politicians. Churchill played the “Orange card” before the First World War. Callaghan was weak enough to need the province’s Protestant Unionist MPs in 1976 and offered Northern Ireland five extra seats at Westminster. They obligingly won the lot. Almost two decades later, John Major needed their support in a minority government in a vote on Spanish fishing rights – an abstruse, ridiculous performance that somehow parallels Lady May’s cynical “deal” with the DUP.
By chance this week, I’ve been re-reading Lloyd George’s memoirs of the Great War, in which the “Welsh wizard” – as deceitful as he was eloquent – alludes to the results of the Curragh mutiny of 1914, in which a cadre of British officers at the army’s Irish headquarters made it clear they would not march on the armed Protestants who opposed Home Rule